On Monday, Fox 13 Tampa Bay released a story highlighting the The Hillsborough County State Attorney has instituted a new policy regarding stopping cyclists. In 2015 the phrase "Biking while Black" became a major problem for the City of Tampa and the Tampa Police Department after a Tampa Bay Times reporter published her findings that 80% of TPD cycling stops and citations were black men. The article was titled, How riding your bike can land you in trouble with the cops — if you’re black. The number was so disproportional that Tampa was then investigated by the Federal Department of Justice.
The following 84 page federal report found that the program was ineffective in stopping crimes, and that TPD placed an undue burden on black cyclists. The introduction of the report lays out the framework for their research and stated:
In addition to examining the disparities in bicycle stops and citations, we also examined the TPD’s three race-neutral rationales for its emphasis on bicycle enforcement. For each of the rationales, we evaluated two questions:
1. Was actual enforcement of bicycle stops consistent with the stated rationale for bicycle stops?
2. Did the TPD’s emphasis on bicycle stops actually achieve the stated goals of each of these rationales (i.e., increased bicycle safety, reduced bicycle theft, and reduced crime generally)?
Finding 1. There are large racial disparities in bicycle stops. In the period of observation (January 2014 to August 2015), 73.2 percent of stopped bicyclists were Black, while 25.9 percent were White. The magnitude of this racial disparity is relatively stable throughout this time period but varies considerably by TPD district.
The next 6 findings can be found in the above linked report.
While the report is very in depth and too long to summarize here, below are a few note worthy quotes from the document.
Bicycle theft is 17 percent of all reported theft and 11 percent of all serious crime in Tampa.
Using the sharp reduction in bicycle stops after the TBT article was published as a natural experiment on the effect of bicycle stops on crime in Tampa…the reduction in bicycle stops had no discernible effect on crime.
Community members expressed concern that at times the police can be disrespectful, heavy handed, and even dehumanizing in their interactions with the public, treatment that can provoke adversarial encounters and escalate situations, and that the police need to communicate more effectively with citizens. There is a feeling that there may be unwritten rules and policies of the TPD that support discrimination, including department culture and its focus on statistics. It was suggested that racial tensions in general have been “bubbling” under the surface for some time and that there is a widespread, general resentment of the TPD in the older Black community, which is affecting the younger generation as well. Some community members feel that the TPD “over polices” and harasses young people, treating young men in the Black community harshly—often (wrongfully) like criminals. Some believe that the disparity in bicycle stops is an example of this
Toward the end of the document there were several recommendations made, not least of which was to stop pulling over cyclists in this manner. Among the many recommendations was:
Recommendation 7. The TPD and the City of Tampa should use an advisory committee composed of citizens from across the geographic, demographic, economic, racial, and gender spectrum in the city. The purpose of this committee would be to provide feedback, questions, suggestions, and overall enhanced communication with the TPD on such topics as existing and proposed crime-related initiatives, strategies, and appropriate policies and practices.
This brings up something that that has been a battle for Tampa residents for many years and calls to mind many ways that The Well community has been participating in, documenting, and fighting to see changes made to help address issues our communities have faced interacting with local law enforcement.
On August 6th, 2015 many from the Well's community joined neighbors at a Tampa City Council meeting to share their experiences and ask for police accountability. The Well's Director spoke about his experience during public comment and then posted this blog with a transcript of his comments the following day. You can read the full comment on that blog but below is a few excerpts to give you a taste of what was said that day.
"A few years ago we witnessed a Tampa Police Officer kick a five year old child to the concrete sidewalk right in front of our house. Every evening helicopters circle our block and have become the lullaby that plays while we try to get some rest and also TPD patrol cars regularly fly down Lake Avenue at close to a hundred miles per hour without any sirens or lights and we all are thanking God that they have not run one of us over...yet
I have lived on lake avenue between college hill and robles park for almost a decade now and I love our neighborhood and I love our neighbors. I don't feel anxious or afraid and I don't feel like my neighborhood is threatening, and I damn sure don't ever wanna hear anyone refer to it as a "bad" neighborhood or part of town. But when I walk out of my house and see TPD on my street, I get nervous because of where I live. I don't get nervous because I am up to no good but because of who they are and what they represent in our community...
Our neighborhood is considered high crime but a more honest metric would be to acknowledge that it is first a community with high rates of poverty, and that is the real crime.
Poor people are often desperate and sell things... like their bodies.
Poor people face daunting and excruciating realities and often self medicate with things like narcotics.
Poor people have plenty of struggles and challenges for survival. The last thing these communities need is military presence posing a threat to their very safety and existence.
If you patrol a black community you damn sure need to answer to the black community.
Let me just add this since all we are really just discussing this little review board, if there is a review board, it better not be filled by the mayor's or TPD's selections. The community must be the ones to decide on who we want on that board, and it will not be their yes men."
There was an incredible series of events that followed in which former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and City Counsel were at odd resulting in The Mayor launching a review committee by Executive Order as a defense against the kind of review board that citizens were asking for.
Here is a 15 Minute recap of the entire drama:
As you can see from the above blog and video we have been paying attention to this for a long time, not because we are reporters or historians but rather, because we are neighbors, cyclists, citizens and every day pedestrians that it all effects. We are grateful for Andrew Warrens recent memo and policy proposal because, even while small, it is another step towards creating a more fair and safe city for every one of us. We are also grateful that it gave us an opportunity to revisit all of this history as it is still a very current reality for many of our neighbors.
Until next time, Be Pedestrian.